By Kang Seung-woo
Amid the public outcry over the country's "hasty" signing of the military intelligence-sharing deal with Japan, multiple sources said Thursday that the signing was made on President Park Geun-hye's order.
The claims raise speculation that she used the deal to ride out a political crisis triggered by a corruption scandal involving her and her friend Choi Soon-sil. She earlier proposed talks on revising the Constitution when the scandal was escalating, triggering speculation about her "true" intentions.
The sources said Park ignored advice from some of her staff that the government had better put off the signing of the military deal until the new U.S. president takes office in January.
Seoul and Tokyo reopened working-level discussions for the controversial General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) on Nov. 1 after a four-year hiatus. They rushed to conclude a provisional deal, Monday, following the three rounds of talks despite objections from the opposition and negative public sentiment toward the agreement.
"The reopening of the talks followed the President's instructions," said a source.
The source added that a ranking Cheong Wa Dae official suggested that the signing be postponed until the inauguration of the new U.S. administration given that the United States hoped that its two allies would reach the deal that would allow the two countries to share military information about North Korea's military activities.
"However, President Park rejected the proposal," the source said.
The defense ministry unexpectedly announced its plan to discuss the signing of the deal on Oct. 27 ― two days after Park's first public apology for the scandal. Opposition parties denounced it as an attempt to avert public attention from the political turmoil crippling the government.
Considering the domestic opposition related to Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, the defense ministry's initial position on the deal was to obtain understanding from the public and the National Assembly before signing the deal.
"The defense ministry wanted to sign the GSOMIA after conditions become mature, but it shifted to rush to conclude the deal, considering the President's decision," said another source.
However, the presidential office denied Park's involvement, saying that the decision to sign the deal was made during a National Security Council meeting after "enough" discussions
To protest the signing, three opposition parties ― the Democratic Party of Korea, the People's Party and the Justice Party ― agreed Tuesday to submit a joint motion, Nov. 30, to ask Park to dismiss the defense minister.
The passage of the motion requires approval from more than half of the 300 lawmakers and with the National Assembly controlled by the opposition bloc, the passage is highly likely.
The two governments are expected to formally sign the deal by the end of this month if the deal is endorsed at a Cabinet meeting.
In 2012, Seoul and Japan were about to sign an agreement, but this fell through at the last minute due to fierce public criticism here over the government's alleged clandestine attempts to sign the deal with Korea's former colonial ruler.